When Cardiff City fans saw their club swoop for Victor Camarasa on deadline day in the summer, they simply had no idea he was this good.
In fact, there were plenty who doubted a largely unproven 24-year-old midfielder from Spain could cut it in a Premier League relegation fight.
A misfit at Real Betis, an untapped talent from Spain’s Under-21 squad, Camarasa arrived in Cardiff – after some persuasion from his girlfriend – with plenty to prove.
Now, after featuring in 19 of Cardiff’s 20 league games and scoring three goals, he is indispensable.
His stoppage time scorcher at Leicester City ensured Camarasa’s name hit the headlines nationwide, but for four months now Bluebirds fans have been raving about the languid Spaniard who’s just loving life in South Wales.
Why he left Real Betis
Neil Warnock has often joked about how good Real Betis’ midfield must be, given Los Verdiblancos’ willingness to ship out Camarasa on loan.
Cardiff have been the beneficiaries of what seems, from the outside, like a strange transfer decision from Betis boss Quique Setien.
But the truth is Camarasa just hasn’t suited Betis since signing from Levante in 2017.
The Spanish side have coped pretty well without him too.
They boast a midfield engine room currently containing Portuguese international William Carvalho, the highly-rated Sergio Canales and on-loan PSG wonderkid Giovani Lo Celso, which has led them to sixth in La Liga as things stand.
“He was never really a fit at Betis, he did well at Levante,” European football expert Andy Brassell told On The Continent Podcast.
AS football journalist Javier De Paz agreed that Camarasa wasn’t progressing at Betis, hence a loan exit to further his development became a priority for the Spanish club in the summer.
“He made his debut for Levante at a young age, and he was certainly one of the most promising pearls in Spain at the time,” said de Paz.
“But his progress ended up stagnating and he left the club when they were relegated from La Liga.”
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Brassell has been impressed with how Camarasa has coped with his new surroundings at Cardiff.
“He’s a player who I think can inject a lot of energy into the game and seems to have done that for Cardiff so far,” he added.
“There was no reason to suppose he wouldn’t be a good addition for Cardiff.
“He’s someone who has got so much to his game in terms of breaking into the box, his passing. I’ve always felt he could do with scoring more goals, but he just wasn’t the right fit for Betis.
“I tended to think if he found another club, it would be in Spain, but I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s gone so well for him at Cardiff – not to detract from his quality.”
Why Cardiff landed him
Warnock tells the tale of how Camarasa’s girlfriend Carla Vila played an influential role in his loan move from Betis to Cardiff.
But the veteran manager also believes he and Camarasa are a perfect fit from a football perspective too.
Reports in Spain spoke of Camarasa’s inconsistencies and, as Brassell says, he’s never been a prolific goalscorer. Two goals in his last three appearances suggests that might be changing.
“He needed to come to a club like mine,” said Warnock.
“You need to play for a manager that believes in you and I just encourage him to shoot whenever he can. He shot up into the stands just before (the goal) and I shouted ‘just keep shooting!’
“He does that regularly in training, there’s very little back-lift with his shooting, he reminds me of a player I had at Notts County called Tommy Johnson, he’s just got that power.”
It’s not just his shooting, it’s his all-round game.
Camarasa seems to be the man Cardiff have been craving for a good number of years; in the Peter Whittingham mould, but with the energy to thrive in Warnock’s system. It’s proving to be a great fit for the club and the player.
With Harry Arter and Aron Gunnarsson providing the solid base that allows Camarasa the freedom he needs, the midfield blend is looking stronger than ever at Cardiff City Stadium.